Mental health and vision loss are interrelated. If you lose your vision, it’s life-changing. It can affect your independence and lead to poor mental health, but poor mental well-being can also contribute to vision loss because of unhealthy lifestyle choices.
In one American research study from 2021 (opens in new window), people with vision impairment were 25% more likely to suffer with depression and mental health. VisAbility Social Worker Marija Clark says vision loss is among the most common chronic conditions associated with depression.
“People are social beings designed for connection. When anyone loses their vision, it can be isolating. It can create barriers to social connections and interactions.”
Marija Clark – Social Worker
“Losing your vision throws up many challenges. Eye conditions that develop over time such as glaucoma and macular degeneration can especially lead to feelings of stress, isolation, anxiety and depression.”
The grief process of losing your vision
There is a natural grief process that comes with any loss. Loss of vision is still a loss of function. People need time to grieve, adjust, to figure out how they can live without what they once had.
A range of emotions – sadness, frustration and missing out on what could have been – are common feelings.
“The loss of eyesight can be compounded by other practical losses – such as losing the ability to drive, to understand written information, or just to watch television. When someone is unsupported, this natural grief can become complicated into longer-lasting depression and anxiety. People may be fearful and embarrassed to the point where they avoid social interaction.”
Of course, when people withdraw and socialise less, it prompts a more sedentary lifestyle and a higher incidence of depression and the potential for less healthy habits.
The correlation between mental health and vision loss
Individuals with poor mental health face challenges accessing regular eye exams – this could be due to anxiety, depression, or lack of motivation. It’s important to prioritise eye health and seek support from a social worker or psychologist.
Stress, anxiety and depression increase the risk of triggering inflammatory eye diseases. These conditions have no noticeable symptoms in the early stages. Without regular eye examinations, they can go undetected leading to permanent vision loss and other complications.
Unhealthy lifestyle choices can increase the risk of advancing eye diseases too. Stress can cause the reactivation of conditions such as uveitis or Charles Bonnet syndrome (opens in new window).
Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, inadequate sleep and lack of social support can impact greater metabolic health and contribute to conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Some medication might also play a role in affecting vision. Anyone who experiences side-effects such as blurry vision and dry eyes should consult with a medical practitioner.
Working through acceptance of the condition
So, how is it best to support people with vision loss? Marija believes it’s helpful for individuals to show empathy.
“Optimism, hope for the future, connections, and an understanding of the grief and loss framework can help individuals come to terms with feelings of loss and sadness.”
Marija Clark – Social Worker
Higher rates of eye disease correlate to social disconnection, so it’s important to have friendships and peer support along with practical help and services from allied health therapists.
“Everyone is individual, but degenerative and commonly misunderstood conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa can be confronting. Most people haven’t heard of tunnel vision or night blindness. It’s a progressive disease and vision loss keeps changing. Yesterday you could see x, and today you can’t. It easily leads to greater feelings of frustration, anxiety and depression,” adds Marija.
Regular eye check-ups
Even though family and friends can be there to help, many people still find it hard to ask for, and then accept, support. For anyone worried about their vision their first port of call should be contacting a professional health practitioner such as a GP, optometrist, orthoptist, or ophthalmologist.
People experiencing sudden vision loss, including partial loss should visit the emergency department of your local hospital.
“Basic support, whatever level, can help. Friends and relatives are encouraged to reminding the individual that they are not alone. Listen and be present, allowing a safe space for individuals to talk and share their feelings. I encourage clients with vision loss to share any uncomfortable moments or mishaps. It’s this honesty and openness that can lead to strategies and solutions to move forward.”
How to get support
If you have a diagnosis of vision impairment, please contact our friendly team to find out what low vision services and support we can provide to you both now and into the future.
There are also a number of low vision support groups within Perth and across the state, which can connect you with like-minded people to build friendships and offer support.
If you are a provider and wish to refer a client, please use our low vision medical certificate (online referral form) to make your referral.